San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘The Da Vinci Code’ Premieres Tonight

Unless you’ve sequestered yourself in northern Costa Rica’s Venado Caverns these past three years, you’ve probably heard of the blockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

Doubleday publishers launched author Dan Brown’s controversial book in March 2003, and, some 40 million copies later, hasn’t looked back. The 454-page “Da Vinci” has firmly entrenched itself on The New York Times’ Best-Seller List for an astounding 163 weeks, and now exists in 44 languages, with some three million Spanish-language copies sold under the title “El Código Da Vinci.”

The novel has spawned book clubs, Internet discussion boards, chat rooms, sightseeing tours, travel books, television specials, editorials, op-ed pieces and study guides, some laudatory, others scathing.

It was just a matter of time before a film would spring out of the phenomenon, too, and for fans of the novel, the wait is over: the movie version premieres tonight here in Costa Rica, the same weekend it will debut in countries around the world.

Without giving too much away, “Da Vinci” speculates that the Holy Grail was not the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, but rather the womb of biblical figure Mary Magdalene, containing the bloodline of Jesus that extends to the present day.

“It’s not a historical book, but unfortunately it is presented as if it were,” said Hiram Sotela, director of the Catholic Church-affiliated Christian Courses Movement.

In the novel’s plot, mainstream Christianity has hidden this information from the public for two millennia. But Italian artist-slash inventor Leonardo Da Vinci somehow knew, and hid clues about the secret in his paintings.

Sotela spoke two weeks ago to a standing room- only group of about 100 people at the Universal bookstore at the Multiplaza del Este shopping center in Zapote, in southeastern San José.His talk had all the festivity of a book signing – copies of the novel, marked 15% off, were displayed on a rack next to his podium.

And downstairs, a huge poster announced tonight’s premiere of the movie at the shopping center’s Cinemark theaters. But, in fact, Sotela’s presentation, “The Fiction of The Da Vinci Code,” intended just the opposite.

“Those with strong faith won’t be affected by the book or movie,” Sotela told The Tico Times after the event. “But those whose faith wavers will be.”

Criticism of the novel is legion.At its most basic, historians point out that “Da Vinci” was not a surname. (Would “The Leonardo Code” have had the same success?)

For those so inclined, the most vehement condemnation of Brown’s book centers on his “Fact Page,” a mini-Cliffs Notes guide to the novel contained within its pages. Brown states that his characters and their actions are fiction, but the artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals portrayed in the novel are fact.

“It mixes lies within truth,” Sotela said. “That’s the oldest form of deception.”

Director Ron Howard has been remarkably coy in television and print interviews about the degree to which the film will label its content “fiction.”

“Controversy definitely creates interest,” explained Gabrio Zappelli, film professor at the University of Costa Rica’s School of Dramatic Arts.

But Zappelli doubts the movie will have a huge impact here.

“Film has lost the mythic dimension to shock that it had in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said.

People today are more interested in form than content, Zappelli suggested, adding that those who are interested in “Da Vinci” as a cultural phenomenon will go to see it, and that more conservative, traditional elements of Costa Rican society will stay home.

Despite the controversy, the Catholic Church here is not proposing a boycott, said Jafet Peytrequín, executive director for cultural affairs of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica.

“We’d recommend that people not see it, but it’s not a question of censorship,” Peytrequín said.

Individual priests may discuss the movie this weekend, especially if there are questions from parishioners, he added, but no formal message from the pulpit is planned.

The daily La Nación reported that the Church will set up a Web site with information about the film.

The Columbia Tristar thriller stars Tom Hanks as “symbologist” Robert Langdon, the story’s protagonist. It marks the third Howard-Hanks joint venture, the two having previously teamed up in “Splash” and “Apollo 13.”

“Da Vinci” was shot in the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean island nation of Malta and France, including one notable scene filmed within the walls of Paris’ Louvre museum itself, where the story begins.

The film will be presented at theaters nationwide in English with Spanish subtitles, according to information supplied by Discine, which is responsible for bringing “The Da Vinci Code” to Costa Rica. Check The Tico Times’ movie listings for more information.


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